Structure of herbaceous plant assemblages in a forested riparian landscape

Jonathan Lyon, Cynthia L. Sagers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


We assessed patterns of herbaceous and woody species richness, plant-environment interactions, and correspondence between the herb and tree layer in a riparian landscape (the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri, USA). A total of 269 herb and 70 tree species were identified on 94 sample plots. Gradient analysis revealed that environmental variables and vegetation were influenced by a strong elevation gradient. However, high variability in environmental variables (pH, elevation, slope, sand, clay, organic matter) indicated a high level of substrate heterogeneity across the riparian landscape. We were unable to predict the composition of the herb understory from the canopy trees with any detailed accuracy and no clear characterization of herb species assemblages was found using cluster analysis or ecological land type (ELT) classifications. Canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) results for both tree and herb plots showed that elevation (height above river) and pH were the dominant environmental gradients influencing vegetation patterns on the first CCA axis while soil particle size exhibited the strongest correlation with the second CCA axis. Secondary gradients of importance included slope, soil container capacity, and organic matter. No significant linear or quadratic correlation was found between elevation and herb or woody species richness. Environmental variables alone or in combination, were weak predictors of herb and woody species richness, despite the patterns observed in the gradient analysis and the correlations observed in the CCA results. Ecotonal analysis showed that the herb layer exhibited a high species replacement rate at the lower elevations most susceptible to flooding (0-3 m). Above the flooding zone, there was more or less continuous species replacement, suggesting the presence of a gradual ecotone/ecocline. The tree layer exhibited much stronger discontinuities than the herb layer in the lower elevations along the height gradient (0-10 m). Recognizing the limitations of classification techniques for riparian herb assemblages and the importance of scale and heterogeneity in vegetation layers is especially important in light of mandates to preserve, protect, and manage for plant diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecotone
  • Gradient analysis
  • Riparian vegetation
  • Species richness
  • Vascular plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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